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Countdown To 5,000: 'The 18 Club'

30 April 2020

Regular readers of Mike Payne's columns over the years, would have often seen him make reference to ‘The 24 Club’.

This is the exclusive club containing the 24 Preston North End players who have made 300 or more first team appearances in league and cup. However, as this column is about our Football League career, I have to reduce that membership down to ‘The 18 Club’.

That is how many players have made 300 or more league appearances. Francis Burns, Gordon Coleman, Ryan Kidd, Bill Shankly, Tony Singleton and Dave Wilson missed ‘the cut’, with ‘Shanks’ just three short of that magic total.

It is also very interesting to note that Bob Holmes made it with a total of exactly 300 league appearances. Up until the end of the 1899/1900 season, Bob had reached 295 league outings. Then, the following season he added four more, taking his total to 299.

He didn’t play at all during the 1901/02 season, but then turned out against Manchester City on Boxing Day 1902 to become the first PNE player to complete his triple century of league games. 

Now I was intrigued by this. Was it a sentimental gesture by the club to select him, or even a Christmas present perhaps? The answer is neither.

Bob had a year or so earlier decided to retire from playing, he still felt fit and well, but he regarded himself lucky that over his long career he had escaped any serious injury, so he wanted to quit whilst he was ahead! However, North End still retained his registration as an amateur player, and when full back John McMahon was transferred to Manchester City just before Christmas 1902, a stipulation was put in place that he wouldn’t be allowed to play against his former club in the Boxing Day game. 

Because of McMahon’s transfer, North End then had a problem with the right back position, so, they called upon Holmes who was offered the chance to play, and he couldn’t resist the urge to don the white shirt again.

The one thing that seems strange and doesn’t get a mention anywhere is the fact that it was his 300th league game. My theory is that nobody actually realised. And even more strangely, Bob Holmes actually stayed on North End’s books as an amateur player right up until 1906.

Oh, and by the way, whilst mentioning ‘The 24 Club’, three of our current players are teetering on the edge of joining it. At the end of last season Paul Gallagher was on 265 league and cup appearances, Paul Huntington was on 271 and Tom Clarke was on 234. Will any of them join our exclusive band of brothers? Watch this space, because if they make it, you can be absolutely sure we will notice!

The full list of the 18 players who made 300 or more league appearances for PNE are as follows: 

Player - Appearances

Alan Kelly Snr - 447
Peter McBride - 442
Willie Cunningham - 440
Sir Tom Finney - 433
Alan Spavin - 424
Joe Walton - 401
Lee Cartwright - 397
Bobbie Crawford - 392
George Ross - 386
Joe McCall - 370
Paul McKenna - 389
Graham Alexander - 370
Alex Bruce - 363
Tommy Rodway - 335
Tommy Docherty - 323
Jimmy Smith - 314
Roy Tunks - 302
Bob Holmes - 300

One Hundred Up

Only twice have North End scored 100 goals in a single league season. The first time was in the 1927/28 division two season. There seemed little chance to make the ton when they set up for the last game of the campaign, against Grimsby, away. They were on 94 goals at the start, but then went on to win an incredible match by six goals to four.

The Lilywhites were 6-0 up with only a few minutes left, but Joe Robson scored an amazing five minute hat-trick and Jackie Bestall claimed a fourth for the hosts and in the end the visitors were hanging on for dear life.

For PNE George Harrison scored the sixth and last goal to bring up the century, whilst the earlier goals came from Alex Reid, Norman Robson and a hat-trick by Ken Cameron, who only scored five goals in total for the club.

On the other occasion when the club reached the 100-goal mark, it also came in the last match of the season. This time it was against Arsenal in division one at Deepdale.

It was the 57th minute of the match, North End were leading 2-0, thanks to goals by Tommy Thompson and Derek Mayers. At this point they were stuck on 99 goals for the season. Thankfully, Tom Finney and Jimmy Baxter engineered another chance and it was put away by Mayers again, with a fine shot. 100 up!

It was the 12th of the season for Mayers, the best total for a right winger for a number of years.

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